Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
The studio heading the current revival of stop-motion animation is Laika — its newest film “Missing Link” is a pulpy action adventure romp filled with jaw-dropping achievements in stop motion.
Laika made a name for itself by using stop-motion films to execute darker stories through creepy character designs and unsettling realistic backdrops. While Laika thrives on these darker tales, general audiences never embraced them, because the horror element was too much for a family film.
“Missing Link” steers away from Laika’s darker themes. The film still keeps the epic scope the studio is known for but relies more on a comedic narrative.
The film follows an explorer named Sir Lionel Frost on his journey to be accepted by his peers in the exploring community after he discovers the elusive Bigfoot, whose name is Susan. However, Susan strikes a deal with Frost. He will give Frost all the evidence he needs to prove Bigfoot exists if he delivers Susan to the lost city of Shangri-La, a sasquatch utopia.
This deal is the beginning of their epic journey that spans continents. The ever-revolving scenery gives Laika a chance to experiment with backdrops and set pieces, resulting in a feast for the eyes.
The North American frontier is a tediously animated barren desert, so every speck of sand moves freely, making the environment feel alive. This is also felt in the snowy, breathtaking peaks of Mount Everest. The lush jungle of India is so incredibly vibrant and detailed that you get lost in the overlapping greenery that consumes the screen.
Similar to the different settings, the characters and actions are so precise in their animation, it’s hard to believe it’s stop motion.
The film is filled with so many action scenes; the fluidity and choreography is perfectly executed. Frost’s proper demeanor and charming actions translate directly into fights with precise punches and jabs. Susan’s portrayal is the opposite, with a bumbling unconfident aura about him that results in timid and clumsy exchanges of anger.
A perfect example of this is seen pretty early in the film during a bar fight. The scene itself plays out like a slapstick bit straight out of “The Three Stooges” and pulled quite a few guttural laughs from me.
Laughs like this are scattered throughout the film. The witty dialogue between the odd pairing of Frost and Susan is so absurd and misconstrued that their conversations lead to nonstop laughs.
This is mostly because of how well written the characters are. Both Susan and Frost are ostracized by their communities, and this common feeling of being unwanted leads to an inner journey of acceptance. The friendship they forge culminates in a rewarding and heartwarming tear-jerking finale.
The film only falters in one aspect. While it is beautifully animated and designed, background characters are often quite basic and plastic-looking. This can take the audience out of the meticulously animated scenes, because the contrast between the almost photo-realistic backdrops with basic background character designs results in an uncanny feeling.
“Missing Link” is a heartfelt adventure that echoes back to the pulpy nature of “Indiana Jones” while also offering slapstick that comes from great silent era comedies. All these aspects are tied together perfectly with detailed and beautiful stop-motion animation in all of its epic glory.